Explore this guide to a software engineering career path, providing insights into the industry, job prospects, and necessary skills for success. This comprehensive guide is a must-read for anyone interested in pursuing a career in SWE.
The software engineer career path is one of the highest-paying roles in any industry. During times of uncertainty in the economy, it also provides more job security and opportunities for advancement than others. The sheer diversity of software engineer career paths, combined with the ease of learning needed to get started, make this a great career choice.
So how do you become a software engineer and what does the career path look like once you get started?
The Current Landscape of Software Engineering
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for software developers is significantly higher than the average growth for other occupations. About 162,900 jobs in software engineering are expected to open up every year through 2031. That means there’s never been a better time to consider a career path in software engineering!
- The median annual salary for software engineers in 2021 was $109,020
- Because nearly every industry needs software engineers, learning coding skills can make you recession-proof
- There are different types of software engineering jobs to choose from
- You can learn to code quickly and affordably with coding bootcamps like App Academy
Developing coding skills can open up many career opportunities for you – including some you may not have thought about before. These are just a few of the industries that require software engineers:
Learn how to code, and you’ll become a more in-demand employee.
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- The Shortage of Software Engineers in America (2023)
Education Required to Be a Software Engineer
Coding competency and programming proficiency are two of the most important skills you’ll need to apply for roles, no matter what other education you have. Whether you’re self-taught, taught by a bootcamp, or learn software skills in college, you’ll need a programming portfolio and a resume to showcase these skills to potential employers.
You’ll also need certain “soft skills.” The most popular software engineering soft skills tech employers look for are:
- Communication – the ability to let your team know what needs to be done and to explain what you’re doing
- Empathy – the ability to understand what your client/employer is feeling and translate that into what you do
- Self-awareness – the ability to recognize gaps in your skillset so you can work to fill them
- Patience – the ability to stay calm in the face of complex problems and emergencies
As you learn coding languages, remember to focus on these soft skills, as well. You’ll need them to help you get a job in tech, especially during whiteboard interviews.
College Degree in Computer Science
Earning a college degree in computer science software engineering is probably the most traditional way to go. You’ll not only learn coding languages, but other subjects related to coding as well, such as psychology. However, college can be expensive and can take two years or more to complete depending on the degree you want.
- Computer Science Degree vs. Coding Bootcamp
- How to Become a Software Engineer Without a College Degree
Complete a Coding Bootcamp
Most tech employers want to see your skills as a programmer more than they want to see a college degree. Tech is at the forefront of industries that look for talent and coding competence over a college degree, so coding bootcamps are a great way to bolster skills and learn the most relevant languages for the industry.
Learn More About Coding Bootcamps:
- 3 Reasons to Choose a Coding Bootcamp with Deferred Tuition
- How to Choose a Coding Bootcamp
- Do Coding Bootcamps Get You Jobs?
- 11 Best Free Coding Bootcamps
Independent learners can learn to code online via free online tutorials. The upside to being a self-taught coder is that you can learn on your own time and at your own pace. The downside is that you need to be extremely self-disciplined and may not have access to the support you would get in college or at a bootcamp.
Three Primary Career Tracks for Software Engineers
There are three main career paths for software engineers. The one you choose will depend on what you want to do, where you want to go, and your interests. Do you prefer to focus solely on coding? Or are you looking to lead a team of other engineers? Would you rather work for yourself or stick with a company?
Individual contributors (ICs) focus almost entirely on the technical aspect of software engineering. You don’t deal with HR issues, team management, or company initiatives. The career track of an IC usually remains aligned with the technical side of software engineering. Your software engineer career progression as an IC will probably look like this:
- Recently graduated from college or a bootcamp
- Write code, debug software, and handle other “smaller” coding tasks
- Design and code software
- Have several years of experience in software engineering
- Work independently on projects
- Highly experienced
- Have a thorough understanding of coding best practices
- Mentor junior engineers
Principal or Distinguished Engineer
- Tech equivalent to a company director
- Senior technical leadership
- Help shape the technical direction of a company
The best career path for a software engineer looking for roles in team leadership is the management track. If you have great soft skills and love to work with people, this is the track for you. Once you have some experience as a junior engineer, following the management track will often involve:
- Leading a team to complete a project on time
- Focusing on customer or employer satisfaction
- Serving as the go-between for upper company management and your team
Software engineers on a management track may even become a VP of Engineering or Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
Freelancer or Contractor
Freelancers and contractors work for themselves. They’re not considered employees. They can take jobs as they want and work their own hours. A freelancer will usually have several clients, while a contractor usually works one job for one client for an agreed amount of time.
Freelancing and contracting are great ways to add bullet points to your resume and diverse projects to your portfolio. You’re free to choose your clients so that you can try new projects or develop a specialty. Keep in mind that working as a freelancer or contractor will depend on your ability to find and get jobs in software engineering.
Remember that you can always make a switch if your chosen path isn’t working for you. For example, you may start as a freelance software engineer, build up your resume and portfolio, and then move on to become an individual contributor within a company.
How to Find a Job as a Software Engineer
When you’re just starting as a software engineer, the job search process can seem daunting. By finding the right information, you can streamline the process and land your first job as a software engineer.
Look Beyond the Tech Industry
Nearly every industry these days needs some form of tech support, from app developers to data analysts. Don’t just search for jobs at major tech companies. Sites like LinkedIn let you search for software engineering jobs in non-tech industries like healthcare and finance. Even the U.S. government needs software engineers, and you can find government jobs at USAJobs.
Job Search Sites
There are great job search websites that aren’t specific to any one industry. Indeed and LinkedIn are two of them.
There are also tech-specific job search websites that can help you look for an in-person or online job; part-time or full-time; freelance or full-hire; and more. These include:
While looking for jobs, do a little research to make sure the jobs pay a standard rate for the work you’ll be doing and the experience you’re bringing to the table. Glassdoor has a few great salary tools you can use to calculate a fair rate. Make sure you read the entire job description for information such as the days and hours you’ll be expected to work, your expected responsibilities, and any other information that will help you decide if the job is right for you.
Be Ready to Apply
Polish your resume and tailor it to the specific job you’re applying for – without lying. Show off the specific projects you’ve worked on and how they’ve helped your clients. Depending on where you learned to code, you might be able to access help for your resume. App Academy, for example, has expert career coaches who help our graduates write their best resumes. We’ll also help you create a portfolio on sites like LinkedIn and Github.
Interviewing for a job can be stressful. And interviewing for your first tech job can be especially stressful. In addition to the usual interview process, like starting with a screening from a member of the HR team to see if you’re a good fit for the company, you’ll likely have to do a whiteboard interview.
This is where you’ll be given a problem by your potential employer and asked to solve it in real time. The purpose of a whiteboard interview is not necessarily to solve the problem but to show off your critical thinking skills and give the interviewer an insight into how your mind works. Part of App Academy’s career coaching program includes sample whiteboard questions and guidance on how to successfully navigate one.
Your career after software engineering school or bootcamp can take you almost anywhere. With the right support, you’ll find a job you love.
Prepare for a Coding Interview:
- Top Software Engineering Interview Questions
- How to Prepare for a Coding Interview
- 6 Tips for How to Negotiate Your Salary as a Software Engineer
Entry-Level Roles in Software Engineering
With your brand-new skills in tow – but little real-world experience – here are some examples of job titles you can expect to have:
- Engineer I
- Junior Engineer
- Junior Software Developer
- Software Developer I
- Programmer I
Most of these jobs involve similar duties, including:
- Assisting senior developers
- Testing, troubleshooting, and debugging software
- Writing and maintaining code
- Helping the team as needed
Entry-level software jobs are great ways to learn the ropes of working as a software engineer. You’ll also make connections in the field.
Mid-Level Roles in Software Engineering
Now that you have some experience in the world of software engineering – say, 3-5 years or so – it’s time to take the next step in your software engineering career progression. Common titles at this level include:
- Engineer II
- Software Developer II
- Programmer II
Duties as a mid-level engineer include:
- Writing technical documentation
- Working with higher-ups in your company to execute roadmap milestones
- Participating in project planning
Of course, your responsibilities may vary based on whether you follow an independent contributor path or a managerial track.
Senior Roles in Software Engineering
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the senior level of your software engineer career path! After many years (~8+) and lots of hard work, you’re at the top. Depending on which career path you choose, here are some titles you can look forward to:
- VP of Engineering
- Senior Software Engineer
- Principal Engineer
- Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
- Distinguished Engineer
By this point, your job might include:
- Mentoring junior engineers
- Building the company’s tech culture
- Overseeing code quality
Specializing: Types of Software Engineers
It’s important to note that there’s not only one type of software engineer career. There are many ways to specialize depending on your interests and talents. These are just a few specializations you can consider as you begin your software engineering career path.
Learn More: 9 Best Front-End Programming Languages
Learn More: 5 Best Back-End Programming Languages
If you can’t decide between front-end software engineering and back-end software engineering, try full-stack engineering. This job involves a little bit of both. Full-stack software engineers are always in demand because of their wide range of skills.
Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer
In this job, you’ll oversee software development through every stage, from design to delivery. Your job will be to make sure the software meets company and client requirements and standards. You’ll also develop the tests that will be used to ensure software quality.
Development & Operations (DevOps) Engineer
DevOps engineers develop the methods and processes that speed up software development. True to their job title, DevOps engineers bridge the gap between development and operations to make the process of creating and delivering software as efficient as possible. They must possess a high level of technical knowledge of systems, methods, and strategies.
Whether you’re more creatively minded in your pursuit of a software engineering career or you just want to write code all day long, there’s a career path out there for you.
Start Developing Your Skills with App Academy
Career paths for software engineers start with App Academy. Our bootcamps and Open program are designed to teach you the software engineering skills you need right now, so you can start your career as soon as possible. We’ll give you all the tools you need for success, including full career coaching to help you find and land the right job.
Take our online quiz to learn which program is right for you, sign up for a live online info session to learn more, schedule a 1:1 call with one of our team experts, or submit a request with our convenient online form. Start your software engineering career today with App Academy!
And, if you’re ready to dig in deeper, start exploring our programs to see which one might be a good fit for you!
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